The Endurance Nation Three Year Plan for Triathlon Excellence: Introduction

150 150 Rich Strauss


The modern world presents us with few opportunity to step into a physical arena and complete a grueling test, earning a title in the process that is widely recognized as being pretty badass. And so, inspired by heroic tales of endurance, the Kona coverage you saw on TV, or maybe to kickstart or celebrate a significant change in your life, you register for your first Ironman® triathlon.

Perhaps the process of training for and successfully completing the event inspires you to sign up for your second Ironman®, to give it another shot and do it better this time. And maybe this leads to your third or many more long course triathlon experiences. Regardless if Ironman® is a one-and-done thing for you, or the beginning of a longer, more committed relationship, you’re going to have a lot of questions. You’re going to make many mistakes and you’re going to learn so much about yourself and the process of training and racing long course triathlon.

We know because we’ve guided thousands of athletes down this path. More importantly we’ve traveled this path ourselves, with nearly 30 Ironman® triathlon finishes between us as both coaches and self-coached athletes. We reached a very good place in this journey, defined by experience, training and racing smarts, and healthy perspective on the sport, after about six years of full time, committed long course triathlon training and racing. And as coaches we are 100% committed to bringing our athletes up the learning curve, primarily by helping them avoid all of the mistakes we’ve made and instead learning from our experience.

And so in the summer of 2014 we created for our team the Endurance Nation Three Year Plan for Triathlon Excellence, with the intent of bringing them, in three years or less, to that learning and experience place that we found in six years of work, mistakes, hard knocks, and growth. Over the next three installments of this series we’ll share with you the broad strokes of this Three Year Plan, hopefully bringing you, our fans several years up the learning curve as well.

But first, let’s step back and discuss what we see as the typical lifespan of the average age group long course triathlete, one that we’ve seen many, many times:

Your First Ironman®

Your eyes are wide and sparkling with untarnished enthusiasm. Every experience is new and full of promise, and questions, because you just don’t know what to expect. In short, you’re dating the homecoming queen or the captain of the football team: everything they do is awesome, you two are awesome together, and everything is so <sigh> awesome! And though this whole dating thing can be a PITA from time to time, you forget all of that when you cross the finish line and proclaim  “This is So. AWESOME!”

Your Second Ironman®

24 hours after crossing the finish line the shoulda coulda woulda process starts — what could I have done differently, in training and racing, and how much faster can I go next time, armed with the lessons I’ve learned from my mistakes?

However, while the honeymoon isn’t quite over yet, it is getting close to check out time. You know what to expect from the training. You know how difficult it will be, again. What sacrifices you’ll need to make, again. And you know how bad it’s going to hurt on race day, again. More importantly, the other people with whom you share your life have their own experiences with your training…and your training…and your training. They will begin to push back, if they did not already during your first.

However, this time you definitely have goals — finishing isn’t enough. Increased race day performance is the validation of the training and personal sacrifices made.

In short, you’re much more “acquainted” with your homecoming queen and football star, and while there’s still enough romance and sexiness there to get you through the long work up cycle, you definitely place metrics on their and your performance on your Big Date.

Your Third Ironman®

By now…most of the sexiness and novelty of the relationship has either worn off for you or has been replaced with very much of a get-to-work ethos. And the novelty and sexiness is certainly not as shiny for those around you. Your third Big Day is definitely about training better, racing better, and going faster.

The net is that, in our experience, most age group triathletes have in them about three years of focused long course training and racing. At this point we see many athletes:

  • Step back to short distances triathlons, and/or
  • Step sideways to marathons, cycling events, and other endurance pursuits.

For those who chose to continue focusing on long course triathlon, they do so as a natural expression of their adoption of and commitment to a “fitness lifestyle.”

That is, the three year process outlined above has created for them habits, a lifestyle, training partners, and other circumstances that allow them to maintain a half Ironman level of fitness for much of the year. Pretty much every Saturday they throw a leg over their bike and do something fun for 2-3 hours. At least one day per week they bang out a 75-90 minute run, because they can. And they’ve likely created social networks and exercise habits that make this not about training but rather “this is just want I do.”

And so ramping up to a full Ironman® triathlon is largely a function of marginally dialing up pre-existing activities, and mental focus, during a relatively brief period of time, compared to the training cycles of their earlier events.  The net is usually a much lower mental and lifestyle cost, because over time they’ve created a healthily sustainable fitness lifestyle and support structures around it.

Thanks for reading, we’ll be back soon with our goals and objectives for Year One of your Three Year Plan.

What are your experiences with this 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Ironman® progression?

Go here for Year One of the Three Year Plan

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